Throwback Thursday: Yes You Can Go a Year Without Buying Clothes! I Did It And So Can You

This piece originally ran on March 20, 2013. Read old comments via the Wayback Machine.

Think about new outfit ideas when you’re bored?
Only feel calm and clear-headed when you’re at the mall?
Envision clothing items before you’ve seen them at a store?
Dream about manicures that will match your outfits?
Buy items that you never end up wearing?

You, like me, have a clothes addiction and would like some help putting the kibosh on your most expensive and time-consuming habit/hobby.

It is working for me, and it will work for you.

1. Don’t give up shopping immediately. It could take you months to prepare for this. First, give up clothes for a period of time that’s unnatural for you. Last year I gave up shopping for Lent. Forty days was a stretch for me, but I did it. A week after Easter I made up for the lost time, but I’d restored my confidence in my own willpower.

2. Clean your closet. If you do this right, it will take you several hours or even a whole weekend. You have to look at — and even try on — every item you own. You have to match each top with several different bottoms, and vice versa.

Find the items that match nothing. Are these items meaningless, regrettable impulse buys? If so, pack them in a bag for your cute little cousin or the local goodwill. Are these unmatched items well-thought-through purchases that you’d wear every week if only you had the right shoes/pants/cardigans to go with them? If so, make a list of items you need to complement your unused pieces. When I did this activity, I found that my whole fall wardrobe would be more tenable if only I owned a pair of brown ballet flats. Easy.

3. Consider a year in your life. What outfits are you going to need? If you give up shopping in May, but you have three weddings to attend in July and you don’t own a fancy summer dress, you will fail at this. If you can wear jeans to work but you don’t own a pair of jeans you love, you will be miserable. Make a list of the things you need and stick to your list. Do not make an extravagant list. When you go to the store to buy the items on your list, do not give in to whims. Do not treat yourself to an extra. The list is it. This is your first test.

4. Draw up the rules of your game. Try to be as extreme as possibly with your rules. If you give up buying clothes but not accessories, you’re on a slippery slope. If you give up buying clothes in your home city but you’re allowed to buy things when you travel, you’re going to have sad vacation bills. If this is the year you’re honeymooning in Italy, this is not a good year to give up shopping. Wait until you get home from Italy.

My rules are pretty simple: I’m not allowed to buy any new clothes for any reason for 12 months. In an emergency (such as: The airline has lost my luggage for the first four days of my trip) I can make an exception, but I have to attempt to solve my problem at a used clothing store. I also have one free pass for myself: I can spend a delightful day consignment shopping with a friend if the opportunity comes up naturally. It hasn’t so far, and I’m six months in to this challenge.

5. Don’t give yourself a free pass on shoes. You have to give up shoes too. Sorry.

6. Don’t give yourself a free pass on accessories. What isn’t an accessory?

7. Confess your plan to people who love you and see you often. These people are going to hold you accountable. Put together a list of clothes-loving coworkers and friends and email them (all on the same email, even if they don’t know each other. Do not bcc them.) on your start date. Your friends won’t ask you to go on superfluous shopping trips anymore, and your coworkers will know your wardrobe well enough to sniff out a slip-up. My mom got me a beautiful yellow cardigan for my birthday. The day I wore it to work, my boss started asking about the new sweater before she even said hello. According to my rules, I’m allowed to accept gifts.

8. Hope and pray that your mom or aunt or someone takes pity on you and buys you something. But do not ask for anything. Don’t even hint.

9. Keep a running list of the things you want. The moment a clothing vision comes in to your head, write it down. Some interesting patterns will emerge. I found out that I really want to buy clothes the day before I’m traveling somewhere, whether for work or pleasure. I also get cravings for brightly colored socks.

10. Keep a running list of things you already have. And I don’t mean clothes. You have friends; you have access to a community exercise class; you have a library card; a local museum is free on Wednesday nights. All of these things will fill the void when you stop shopping. Because the thing is — and this aspect of the project surprised me — there is no reason to pop into a store for minute if you know you can’t buy anything. I envisioned myself shopping just as often, but not bringing anything home. Instead, I’ve almost completely stopped looking in stores.

11. Call your sponsor. If you do breeze through your favorite store in the coldest month of the year to find a gorgeous spring collection, and find that your mouth is actually watering, call up one of those friends. Okay, you’ve confessed your temptation. Now go home.

My year is up September 23rd, 2013. When is yours?

Alexa Mills lives in Boston.

Photo credit: Mean Girls screenshot.

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